From left: Dr Tashfeen Siddiq Ali, chief medical officer and consultant emergency medicine at King’s College Hospital, Dubai, Dr Marwan Al Mulla, CEO of Health Regulation Sector at DHA and Dr Ali Al Obaidi, chairman of the UAE National Transplant Committee during the press conference to announce the first successful liver transplant in Dubai on Wednesday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: In a landmark medical achievement, the first ever liver transplant surgery done in Dubai has saved the life of a 38-year-old woman.

The transplant was done at the King’s College Hospital, Dubai, on November 29 and the patient has been doing well after the surgery, it was announced on Wednesday.

The family of a brain-dead patient donated the latter’s liver which was transplanted into the recipient’s body in a four-hour surgery. A team from the King’s College Hospital, London, flew down to lead the surgery along with experts from the facility’s Dubai branch.

Dr Marwan Al Mulla, CEO of Health Regulation Sector at Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said this marks the next phase of organ transplant in Dubai.

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He recalled that a generous donation from the UAE’ Founding Father the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1979 had enabled King’s College Hospital in London to become one of the top three centres in the world for liver transplant.

Hailing the achievement of the hospital’s Dubai branch as a significant addition to the emirate's healthcare accomplishments, Dr Al Mulla said it aligned with the rapid transformations and successive qualitative advancements towards health sustainability in Dubai.

“The operation exemplifies the city's capability to handle sophisticated medical procedures and reaffirms its commitment to pioneering a sustainable and progressive healthcare system.”

Autoimmune hepatitis

Dr Tashfeen Siddiq Ali, chief medical officer and emergency medicine consultant at King’s College Hospital London- Dubai, said the patient was discharged from the hospital in very good health just ten days after the surgery, marking a milestone recognised by the DHA.

Dr Ali said the patient had presented with an advanced liver disease that damaged her liver very badly.

She was diagnosed with a rare liver condition known as autoimmune hepatitis, where the body's immune system attacks the liver, leading to liver damage and ultimately liver failure.

Six months prior to the surgery, the patient had exhibited symptoms including jaundice (yellowing of the eyes), swelling in her legs and abdomen, without any previous history of liver disease. Despite attempts with medication, her condition continued to deteriorate, leading to liver cirrhosis and signs of liver failure. Thus, liver transplant was deemed the best course of treatment.

To ensure her suitability for the transplant, the patient underwent comprehensive pre-transplant evaluations to confirm the absence of any other health conditions and her ability to safely undergo the procedure.

“We are extremely grateful to the donor family. The organ came in time and the donor was moved to our hospital for the transplant,” said Dr Ali.

Surgical team

The meticulous surgical procedure was led by Dr Parthi Srinivasan, chief transplant surgeon and clinical lead at King’s College Hospital London and director of Liver Transplant Services in Dubai, along with his team from London and Dr Rakesh Rai, liver transplant surgeon at King's College Hospital London in Dubai.

Dr Ali said the expert doctors had conducted hundreds of liver transplant surgeries in London.

"Liver transplantation is an option for some patients suffering from liver cancer, and it is the only life-saving option for patients experiencing acute liver inflammation, which can lead to acute liver failure. This can occur due to viral infections, medications, or unknown causes,” he said.

He explained that patients with serious liver problems often require high-quality care in specialised liver intensive care units associated with liver transplant units. “The liver care centre at King's College Hospital London in Dubai houses a specialised team of skilled and experienced professionals who provide care for liver patients, including those with chronic diseases, liver cirrhosis, acute liver failure, pancreatic diseases, liver cancer, and pancreatic cancer,” he said.

582 transplants so far

Dr Ali Al Obaidi, chairman of the UAE National Transplant Committee said Dubai’s achievement in liver transplant is an occasion to celebrate the success of the national programme in saving lives.

He said the "Hayat" national organ and tissue donation and transplantation programme works to promote organ and tissue donation and transplantation in line with the highest standards.

“Since 2017 until now, we have had 582 organs transplanted including 328 kidney, 199 liver, 16 heart, 26 lungs, and 13 pancreas transplants. Some of these included combined organ transplantation meaning kidney and liver, or kidney and pancreas, etc,” Dr Al Obaidi announced.

A vast majority of these transplant surgeries have taken place in various recognised organ transplant centres in Abu Dhabi.

Dr Al Obaidi said the donors and recipients belonged to 52 nationalities and various faiths, reflecting the human solidarity, tolerance and coexistence in the country.

“Our law says organ donation and transplantation should be offered to everybody irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, gender, social status, or financial income. And this is a recipe for success to ensure that this programme is from everybody to everybody.”

Additionally, Dr Al Mulla pointed out that the organ donation rate in Dubai increased to 117.7 per cent in the current year compared to last year, with the number of donors rising to 37 cases in 2023 compared to 17 cases in 2022.